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Parnelli Jones 1933-2024

By Andrew Noakes

Parnelli Jones

Above: Parnelli Jones in 2009. Photo courtesy of Ian Wagstaff

Parnelli Jones tyres advert
Parnelli Jones racing

Above: Parnelli Jones (left) alongside Vince Granatelli demonstrating Lotus 56 gas turbine cars on the morning of the 2014 Indy 500. Photo courtesy of Ian Wagstaff

Last week we heard that Parnelli Jones had died, just a few weeks short of his 91st birthday. Jones was the first driver to record a 150mph qualifying lap at Indianapolis and (controversially) won the race in J. C. Agajanian’s Watson-Offy a year later. He also won in stock car racing, on dirt tracks and in off-road races, and his full-throttle-always attitude made him such a well-known name in the US that Firestone released a tyre named after him.

After retiring from driving he ran his own Indycar team, winning the Indy 500 with Al Unser driving in 1970 and 1971. As a team owner he also had a brief foray into Formula 1 with a Maurice Philippe-designed Lotus 72-alike car driven by Mario Andretti.

Ian Wagstaff, author of several Porter Press books, interviewed Jones in 2009 about the mid-1960s period when British cars and drivers ‘invaded’ Indianapolis. ‘That morning, Sally Swart, a neighbour of his and former girlfriend of Jim Clark, challenged me to tell Parnelli that the Scot should have won the 1963 “500” and not him. Sitting opposite his desk, I was aware of his piercing eyes – surely a sign of a truly great racing driver – boring through me. I skirted around the subject but, with my being a Brit, it was obviously the elephant in the office. “Everybody tried to blame me for the fact that the track was oily but it was oily all day long,” he told me. “Most of the oil was coming back on my exhaust and onto my left rear. Whether I should have been black flagged – I don’t think so.” There are those that believe Parnelli should have been brought in by chief steward Harlan Fengler for dropping oil. With Jimmy not far behind in second place, Lotus boss Colin Chapman thought so. That day in Parnelli’s office in California, I certainly was not going to argue.’

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Roger J Spurr - June 17, 2024

A sad day. I had just taken a renewed interest in Indy racing and got hold of the biographies of Vukovich, Foyt and Jones. The latter having been signed by Parnelli.
Another world both in time and culture the USA racing scene, but one well worth discovering in print.
RIP Parnelli Jones.

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